The recent closing of an English Wikipedia request for comment (RfC) on the reliability of British tabloid The Daily Mail as a source has drawn wide press attention. The Guardian first covered the story (February 8), followed by a piece in Engadget (Feb. 9), and a flurry of coverage in various outlets extending for more than a week.
Some coverage described the decision as a "ban," and some in the Wikipedia community have objected to the use of the term. The text in the RFC stated that the source is "generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist." Many editors have long avoided using the newspaper, which in a pre-Internet world was known outside Britain as being lampooned by The Smiths in 1986's The Queen Is Dead ("Charles don't you ever crave, to appear on the front of the Daily Mail, dressed in your mother's bridal veil.")
The Daily Mail responded, quoted first in a Press Gazette story (February 10). The response rambled from one point to another, stating that the Daily Mail had banned Wikipedia as a source in 2014 (and why not before?), mocking the editor who initiated the RFC, and suggesting procedural problems in the decision. Signpost editor Pete Forsyth published a point-by-point rebuttal (February 13), which was featured on the front page of medium.com. According to a public statement from the RFC initiator, personnel from the Daily Mail also paid an unannounced and unwelcome visit to a family member of his; responding to a Signpost inquiry, he added that they had returned a second time. He also speculated that the Daily Mail's characterization of him as a "clearly obsessive newspaper-hater" may have derived from an abandoned project of his, dubbed the "Tabloid Terminator," in which he sought to improve sourcing in prominent biographies. Jimmy Wales publicly invited the Wikipedian to contact him for assistance.
The story continued to expand. AdWeek, Al Arabiya, and Mashable joined the fun, and there were more news blips (CNN, Fox News, Newsweek). Some, including the original Guardian story, quoted a response from the Wikimedia Foundation.
Responding to a question about whether commentary from Wikipedia administrators, rather than the WMF, might have made a better focal point for his initial story and his February 12 followup piece, Guardian reporter Jasper Jackson said "I do and I did confirm various details with people involved." He added that "it could be easier for a reporter to contact Wikipedia administrators, and some sort of easily available contact information, ie an email address, would be helpful." Jackson may continue covering the piece, and he invites commentary via Twitter or email.
Slate's Will Oremus generally praised Wikipedia's decision and its transparent and deliberate nature, but he cautioned that "Wikipedia's [often non-expert] editors are opening a dangerous box by targeting specific news outlets for blanket prohibitions. Bans are binary, whereas journalistic credibility lies on a spectrum." The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard wrote: "The concept of 'ban' on Wikipedia is a strange one since anybody can edit an article. This is more like an agreement among Wikipedia's most active editors to try to address the problem by not linking to Daily Mail articles and by editing sources that do link to them."
As numerous other media piled on, editors at Wikipedia's Reliable Sources noticeboard had mixed reactions. In a series of tweets quoted by "Political Scrapbook", Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said the "...organization did not decide this, contributors did," affirming that the Wikimedia Foundation had not participated in the decision.
Wikipedia's article on the Daily Mail has been semi-protected since January 2013, preventing direct edits from new Wikipedia contributors.
- Discerning readers may recognize an echo, in this article's title, from the 1980s sitcom Yes Prime Minister; see quote, video clip.